Downloads cheat you out of most of the music. Blame it on the way MP3s and the other lossy codecs work--they "throw away" as much as 90% of the original recording's information to squeeze the data into smaller files. The fuzzy logic behind this musical abomination is the missing information isn't audible, and if you never plan to listen to the music you love over anything better than a set of $29 plastic computer speakers or the freebie ear buds that come with your iPod, I'll concede the point. So sure, if you don't know what you're missing, compressed music can sound good enough.
But then again, if there's a chance you would ever want to really hear what the artist intended, and/or listen over a decent hi-fi system, go ahead and buy the 100% uncompressed CD. Throw into the mix a (used) DRM-free CD will be less expensive than the iTunes version and you'll own something that, with any luck, will be in your life for a long, long time. Rip the CD's tunes to your iPod, compress the hell out of them if you want, but at least you'll have the full resolution copy on hand.
Spoon's "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga" goes for $10.99 brand new on Amazon and $9.99 on iTunes. Ah, but the CD comes with a 23 minute, twelve track bonus CD, and iTunes gives you one measly bonus tune, "Deep Clean" which clocks in at three minutes and forty four seconds.
Yes, with the CD you have to pay Amazon's shipping costs, unless you put together a $25+ order, and then it's free. I bought the Spoon CD with bonus disc from my friendly local record store for $11.99, and they tossed in a free (!) Spoon 7-inch vinyl single. It features a demo of "The Underdog" on one side, and "It Took a Rumor to Make Me Wonder, Now I'm Convinced I'm Going Under" on the other side. How cool is that? All I'm trying to say here is, if you're laying down hard earned cash to buy music you love, why not buy it in its best sounding form?
I'll close with a theory of mine--crappy sounding music is killing the music business. MP3s are subversive because they have apparently stopped people from really listening. Music has become a background soundtrack to other activities. It's just not important anymore. So if the music isn't moving you, maybe, just maybe, it's the sound that's turning you off. The Audiophiliac is here to help.